4 January 2021

Fanned to a golden blaze

A dear friend in Scotland sent me a Christmas Card with a picture of Fr Martin Mary, of the Papa Stronsay Redemptorists, celebrating his First Mass (a High Mass) on the Scottish Mainland. The picture at first seems fuzzy ... until one one realisess that a brilliant beam of sunlight is shining down through the incense-smoke onto the young celebrant. Beautiful!

It reminded me of this evocative poem by Sir John Betjeman, with its marvellous and moving final stanza. It seems so prophetic as an evocation of the resurrection of Catholic Worship witnessed by so many youthful movements in the Catholic Church, not least the Papa Stronsay Redemptorists and the Ordinariates. I deem it ripe for yet another showing (a philological question at the end). Fans out, everybody!

What a difference there is between Waking and Woke!

We, who remember the Faith, the grey-headed ones,
Of those Anglo-Catholic Congresses swinging along,
Who heard the South Coast salvo of incense-guns
And surged to the Albert Hall in our thousands strong
With 'extreme' colonial bishops leading in song;

We, who remember, look back to the blossoming May-time
On ghosts of servers and thurifers after Mass,
The slapping of backs, the flapping of cassocks, the play-time,
A game of Grandmother's Steps on the vicarage grass -
"Father, a little more sherry. I'll fill your glass".

We recall the triumph, that Sunday after Ascension,
When our Protestant suffragan suffered himself to be coped -
The SYA and the Scheme for Church Extension -
The new diocesan's not as 'sound' as we'd hoped,
And Kensit threatens and has Sam Gurney poped?

Yet, under the Travers Baroque, in a limewashed whiteness,
The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady's image, in multiple-candled brightness,
The bells and banners - those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.

Interesting, the pronunciation (inferred from the rhymes) of 'Mass'. Mascall's verse also implied this pronunciation, which, of course, is not universal in English English. I invite philological comments.


Stephen v.B. said...

Given that 'Mass' (1) derives from Lat. missa via OE messe, while 'mass' (2: body of matter) derives from Lat. massa, this particular pronunciation is even less likely for the first 'Mass' than for the second, historically speaking.

I note that the (old) OED gives only one pronunciation for both words (transcribed as 'mæs'), while Fowler's 'Concise Oxford Dictionary' offers 'mahs' as an alternative pronunciation for the first type of 'Mass' only. It would be difficult, I think, to ascertain when that pronunciation first arose; even rhyming schemes offer no full security, considering the possibility of 'visual rhyme' (such as 'wind'/'mind', 'love'/'prove', or Auden's 'lie'/'poetry'). I suspect that it is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Perhaps one might speculate that the 'broad' pronunciation of 'Mass' served to differentiate the sacred from the profane?

(As an aside: Betjeman's rhyme might also work if one pronounced all words concerned with a short, 'Northern' [a]. But I don't think that was the author's intention ...)

Farmer's boy said...

From my own family I would say the long A in Mass was widespread in the first half of the twentieth century, and was general among the Irish diaspora

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

As Farmer’s Boy suggests, my experience, as a convert, is that as Anglicans we said Mæs, and that Catholics very generally said Māhs. As every rule requires an exception, there were “posh”
High Anglicans who affected the latter, and presumably it is these whom Betjeman is poking with his customary gentleness.

In time these distinctions seem less clear-cut, possibly due to many late 20th century converts (like me, I still say Maes) and the fact that’s so many younger Catholics go to non-Catholic schools.

Pete said...

I think we need only look to the great May hymn to see how grass and by implication mass(e) is to be pronounced

Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Here in the Boston area, which of course is strongly influenced by the Irish diaspora the following words all rhyme:

Mass (both meanings referenced above)

Most people would also rhyme the following words with the above:


and would have the following as near-rhymes:


although sometimes the latter sport the long "a" sound as in father.

Atticus said...

“Good morning, good morning!” the celebrant said
As he flung wide his arms at the start of the Mass
(Though most of his flock were still soundly abed
Having given up church when he brought in guitars).
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Simon to Sandy
As the priest blithely eulogised Luther and Gandhi.

But he did for them both with his ars celebrandi.

Greyman 82 said...

"Mass" and "grass" both rhyme with "ass", What's the issue?

Adrian said...

I always thought 'Mass' with a long 'a' came from the Catholic public schools: the old Gregorians in my Oxford college circa 1973 made it sound as though there were an 'r' in it - 'Marse'.